43BC: Octavian exercises his influence to get himself elected as part of the Second Triumvirate (i.e., three-way dictatorship) of the Roman Senate. Interesting tidbit on his name: he was born into a noble household as Gaius Octavius Thurinias; adopted in 44BC by Julius Caesar, he became known as Gaius Julius Caesar, and after the battle in Egypt, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus. Historians use a three part shorthand to designate the phases of his life: Octavius (64-44), Octavian (44-27), and Augustus (27BC- 14AD).
79AD: Mount Vesuvius erupts in a cataclysmic explosion of ash and pyroclastic flow that obliterates the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
410: The Visigoth army, under the command of Aleric, begins a three day sack of Rome.
1227: Traditional date for the death of Genghis Khan (b. circa 1162), the Mongol warlord and leader of an empire that spread from China’s coastal plains, across the steppes of central Asia to the banks of the Dnieper River and the gates of Kiev. He is credited on the positive side with consolidating the Silk Road into a peaceful trading confederation, for instituting a nominal level of meritocracy in his governmental postings, and for creating a unifying political structure across a fractious region. As a military commander he had no peer during his lifetime.
1456: Completion of the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
1587: Birth of Virginia Dare, granddaughter of the governor Roanoke Colony, John White. Miss Dare was the first English child born in the Americas.
1754: Birth of Banastre Tarleton (d.1833), the British Lieutenant-Colonel who distinguished himself during the American Revolution as an exceptionally brutal commander during the British Southern Campaign. His actions in that theater earned him the nickname of “Bloody Ban,” a result of the mass killing of American militia who were in the act of surrendering at the Battle of Waxhaw Creek in North Carolina. The action inflamed the rest of the colonies and led to the battle cry of “Tarleton’s Quarter!” when Americans came back into contact with the Redcoat army.
1774: Birth of Meriwether Lewis (d.1809), the other half of the leadership team that surveyed the new Louisiana Territory in the great Corps of Discovery expedition of 1803.
1812: Captain Issac Hull, commanding the frigate USS Constitution, engages the British heavy frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia and blasts her into a useless and splintered hulk, killing a third of her crew and sending shock waves throughout the Royal Navy and joy throughout the United States. Continuing to close through the Briton’s early cannonades, Hull withheld the order to fire back until they were a mere 25 yards off, at which point he ordered a shattering broadside that swept Guerriere’s decks and almost immediately began her dismasting. Though damaged in the rigging, Constitution comes out of the battle essentially intact. During the battle, Guerriere’s cannonballs were seen bouncing off the stout oaken sides of the Constitution, prompting the cry, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”
1831: Just down the road from here in Southampton County, the slave Nat Turner leads what he believes will be a God-inspired revolt to throw off the chains of slavery. After months of planning, he and a handful of compatriots during the night of 20-21st of August begin to gather an “army” by stealthily moving from farm to farm, killing the whites with knives, axes and blunt instruments, and enjoining the now-freed slaves to join them to continue the process until they have enough forces for an expected stand-up fight with the inevitable militia pursuit. By the time militia formed up in the morning, Turner’s forces had killed 55 whites and swelled their own ranks to approximately 70 slaves and free blacks. The rebellion was quickly suppressed the day after it started, but Turner escaped the dragnet until October 30th, after which he was tried and executed on November 5th. Turner’s Rebellion came to stand for all that was wrong with the slave system, between the moral and physical degradation of the practice, to the latent threat of this kind of uprising, to the expense of maintaining slaves during the long downturn in tobacco prices; the system had been for nearly ten years prior showing signs of collapse, particularly in the mid-Atlantic states. Further emphasizing the point, the Liberian repatriation movement was already in full swing, but the brutality of the uprising, and the potential scope of a similar threat in the future led to a significant hardening of Southern attitudes, all of which figured in the development of the new cotton plantations in the Deep South and the burgeoning slave trade that supported that new labor market. It also represented the enslaved souls’ unending desire for freedom and a willingness to take action to gain that freedom.
1838: Wilkes Expedition. In a long-delayed follow up to the Corps of Discovery, the six US Navy ships of the United States Exploring Expedition weigh anchor from right here in Hampton Roads to begin a four-year journey around the American continents and the Pacific basin. Their mission was to create accurate surveys of newly found lands, promote American commerce abroad, and conduct scientific surveys of resources in previous discoveries. The expedition was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, USN, for whom the expedition is named.
1839: The French government, after granting Louis Daguerre a lifetime pension for his invention, announces that the Daguerreotype photographic process is “Free to All.” This is great news except in England, where Daguerre filed a patent a year earlier, which limited the island to only one licensed photographer through the life of the patent.
1857: The Panic of 1857: a series of cascading bank failures brought on by a combination of a year-long recession, the Crimean War’s effect on US trade, collapsing banks, collapsing real estate market speculation brought on by railroad failures, collapsing grain prices, the loss of a ship carrying a huge shipment of gold from California and deep uncertainty about whether the US government could back up its debt obligations in specie. As of this day the stock market lost 66% of its 1852 value, which it did not recover until years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Other than that, things were pretty normal, except for the growing violence of the abolitionist movement and the looming secession of the southern states.
1940: Death of Leon Trotsky (b.1879), Vladimir Lenin’s right-hand man, organizer and commander of the Red Army, Commissar of Foreign Affairs who negotiated the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Imperial Germany, and staunch opponent of Joseph Stalin’s rise to power in the Communist Party leadership. Not impressed of all the original revolutionary cadre during the Russian Revolution, he bitterly resented Stalin’s emphasis on consolidating Communism in Russia, rather than continuing along the pure path of global revolution. Noting the problems inherent with bureaucratizing a revolution: “In inner-party politics, these methods lead, as we shall yet see, to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a “dictator” substitutes himself for the central committee.” Trotsky wrote passionately against Stalin after he was exiled to Mexico: “Bureaucracy and social harmony are inversely proportional to each other… In Stalin each [Soviet bureaucrat] easily finds himself. But Stalin also finds in each one a small part of his own spirit. Stalin is the personification of the bureaucracy. That is the substance of his political personality.” On the night before today, the bureaucracy had had enough, and NKVD agent Roman Mercader connived his way into Trotsky’s Mexican home and plunged an ice-axe into his head. Amazingly, it did not kill him immediately; after a futile surgery, Trotsky’s last words were, “Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before.”
1947: Death of Ettore Bugatti (b.1881), Italian engineer and automobile designer, who set up a French company bearing his name that produced some of the most successful and beautiful cars of the 1920s-30s. The name Bugatti was associated with precision and high performance throughout the pre-war period. The marque was revived in 1987 by an Italian entrepreneur who, in 1996, designed and built the stunning EB 110 supercar. Volkswagen Group acquired the marque in 1998 and used its deep financial pockets and engineering prowess to produce the Veyron 16.4, the world’s fastest production car (top speed just shy of 270 mph).
1848: Eight months after the discovery of loose gold near Coloma, California, the New York Herald becomes the first East Coast newspaper to announce the news to the rest of the world. The gold rush that began during this summer became a veritable flood of Easterners chartering clipper ships to San Francisco, which transformed the city from a sleepy fishing town and army post to a booming den of iniquity and gold-fueled wealth. Because of the one-way nature of the commerce, hundreds of ships were left abandoned on the San Francisco waterfront, where their remains are still excavated today during many construction projects.
1863: A carefully planned raid by rebel-Rebel gunmen, led by William Clark Quantrill, attacks the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, burning a quarter of its buildings to the ground, killing over 200 military-aged men, and pillaging whatever remained.Quantrill’s Raid, also known as the Lawrence Massacre, became one of the bloodiest events in Kansas’ history, which had seen more than its share of abolitionist violence since the first Sack of Lawrence in 1856, and helped cement the title of “Bleeding Kansas” on that front line of the ongoing battle to expand or restrict slavery in the western territories.
1882: Debut performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, the 1812 Overture.
1914: Two weeks after Albert I, King of Belgium, denies the Imperial German Army passage into France, the Germans occupy Brussels.
1920: After nearly 75 years of increasingly powerful campaigning, this day sees the final ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women’s suffrage.
1920: Founding of the National Football League.
1938: The “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig, smashes his 23rd grand slam home run, a record that stood until current Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez hit his 24th in the 2013 season. At the close of his career last year, Rodriguez finished with a total of 25 of them.
1953: In coordination with Great Britain’s MI-6, the CIA assists in the coup d’etat of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh, a virulent Persian nationalist who campaigned incessantly against Britain’s economic ties with Iran. His election brought with it a host of Progressive social reforms and wholesale nationalization of the oil industry, which was not seen in Britain’s best interests. Winston Churchill let it be known to the U.S. that Mosaddegh was also leaning heavily communist, which of course helped secure American interest.
1968(a): Increasingly concerned about the dangerous liberalism undertaken by Czech premier Alexander Dubcek, the Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia in a vivid demonstration of the Brezhnev Doctrine, wherein the USSR retains the right to “protect the gains of the socialist revolution” in any country it could reach.
1968(b): France detonates its first thermonuclear bomb, the CANOPUS test in the Polynesian test range, becoming the fifth nation to do so. In typical French fashion, the photography is the most artistic to come out of the atmospheric test programs of the nuclear powers.
1977: Death of Groucho Marx (b.1890), who said, “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”
1981: Two F-14 Tomcats flying from USS Nimitz (CVN-68) shoot down two Libyan SU-22 Fitters during a Freedom of Navigation exercise in the Gulf of Sidra.
1991(a): The August Coup- First full day of the coup attempt by Soviet hardliners against the reform government of Mikhail Gorbachev; on this day the Red Army was ordered into Moscow to shell the “White House” parliament building. Moscow mayor Boris Yeltsin climbs up onto a tank with a bullhorn and exhorts the crowd of over 100,000 to keep demonstrating for reform and freedom.
1991(b): Estonia releases a statement re-asserting its status as an independent Baltic nation, in defiance of the Soviet Union’s 1941 annexation of it and its two sister republics.
1991(c): Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.